Build Systems that Drive Business
June 11–12, 2018: Training
June 12–14, 2018: Tutorials & Conference
San Jose, CA

Leading an effective engineering team within the world's largest bureaucracy

3:40pm–4:20pm Thursday, June 14, 2018
Location: LL20 A/B Level: Non-technical
Secondary topics: Leadership & Career Growth
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 5 ratings)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Engineering leaders and managers

Prerequisite knowledge

  • Experience managing engineers or teams (useful but not required)

What you'll learn

  • Explore lessons on maintaining an optimal engineering work culture


Sunil Sadasivan compares and contrasts the work environments he’s seen effective at startups to those of complex bureaucracies and shares lessons he’s learned for maintaining an optimal engineering work culture at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2017, after several years as the CTO of Buffer, a startup he helped grow to over 90 people, Sunil joined the Department of Veterans Affairs as a contractor to modernize the VA benefits appeals process. This process is difficult for veterans to navigate and can take years. The median time it takes to receive an appeals decision from the Board of Veterans is more than five years. While Sunil loves working with small tech startups, he has found the work fixing an arduous process at the VA incredibly challenging and rewarding as the scale of impact on the outcomes of human lives is broad. There are few projects where a single 500 error can ruin someone’s life; this is one of them.

Topics include:

  • Challenges faced deprecating legacy systems at the VA and why modernizing these requires the best of the best product, design, engineering, and startup mindset
  • How to manage the relationships between different contractors to work effectively together as one team
  • How to explicitly define, steer, and adjust the work culture at a larger organization
  • The notion of “stop energy,” which helps ensure teams make progress
Photo of Sunil Sadasivan

Sunil Sadasivan


Sunil Sadasivan is the former CTO at Buffer and now leads the modernization of VA Appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs with Nava and the USDS.